The Old Vet’nary – Handling Difficult Animals

The Old Vet’nary – Handling Difficult Animals

It seems to me that vets today have it easy when it comes to handling difficult animals.  Back in the 60’s we did not have the rapid acting sedatives and dart guns available today.

One day I had just finished morning surgery at my Plymouth practice when I received a call from the police.  “A leopard has escaped at Plymouth Zoo.  Can you attend?”  Not having the courage to say no, I said I would be right there.  Well I did all the police work and the zoo was bang next door to my surgery.  Then it occurred to me that the zoo had closed a year ago; so I was intrigued.  The problem of what equipment to take was soon solved as I had only a slow acting narcotic, usually used to sedate animals before an operation.  It took about 15 minutes to work; a lot can happen in 15 minutes.  But I took a large syringe!

On arrival I found out what had happened.  A leopard was being transported from abroad to Whipsnade Zoo.  The driver had received permission from the owners of the zoo, the Chipperfields of circus fame, to overnight in their premises.  During the night the leopard had broken the wire in the corner of the trailer and escaped.  The driver was nowhere to be seen.  The fact that the red light district of Devonport was just down the road was irrelevant.  The leopard was most probably still within the zoo’s high fence, but to be safe the police had cleared the whole of the surrounding Central Park and police cars were circling the park with bells and sirens galore, an impressive sight, but in the zoo itself there was an eerie silence. The site was steeply sloping and I began to walk up, quartering the ground as I climbed.

A third of the way up I met two high ranking police officers, a magnificent sight in all their silver insignia.  The thought struck me that the leopard might me attracted by all this glinting bling, so having exchanged pleasantries I rapidly put distance between us and worked my way up the slope.  What I thoughts I was going to do if I met the beast heaven knows but the ignorance of youth drove me on.  At the top of the enclosed area was a deserted ice cream kiosk and I was heading for this when I heard a loud voice behind me.  “You’re mad you lot.  That leopard is a killer!”  It was Richard Chipperfield, a well known member of the younger generation of the family, rifle slung over his shoulder.  I told him I had covered the lower slopes and he went straight up to the kiosk, shinned up the drain pipe like a cat burglar and onto the flat roof.  I stayed where I was, for want of anything better to do, not 20 yards from the kiosk.  Two shots rang out and Richard Chipperfield climbed down from the roof.  The leopard had been resting on the lawn where, in years gone by, customers had sat at tables and licked their ice-creams or consumed their drinks at rickety little tables and chairs.  Richard had undoubtedly saved my life.  I went over to see her and his shooting was immaculate.  First a spinal neck shot to immobilise her and then a heart shot; but she was beautiful and I could not resist stroking her still warm body.

Ken Watson

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This article was written by
Ken Watson

Ken Watson's career as a vet started many moons ago, after he'd attended Royal Veterinary College at Camden Town. Ken came to work at Sidmouth in 1953 at Steele & Wardrop (now Ikin & Oxenham). Subsequently Ken set up his own practice at Plymouth in 1961 before retiring in 1992. His pieces graphically map out the changes that have taken place in the veterinary business over the years and also allow great insight into human behaviour.